In 2014 I attended my first RWA conference in San Antonio. Not knowing what to expect, I’d gone with the idea that, as a trying-to-get-published romance writer, I was going to go all in, attend every workshop, listen to every professional chat, set up as many editor and agent appointments as I was allowed, and basically do and see everything offered.
What’s that old saying: you make plans and God laughs? Yeah. Welcome to my life.
The reality was so different from what I’d planned, it was almost comical.
First of all, there was no way I could attend every single workshop because so many of them overlapped. I hadn’t realized I could see the full schedule on line before going, so I’d just assumed I’d be able to attend everything I wanted. Nope. Lesson learned? Plan ahead. Read through the online listing and consider each class/workshop/chat for what it will bring to you as a writer. The conference is available on audio you can purchase, so if you miss classes, you can still hear their useful info when you get home.
I signed up for the Agent/Editor appointments, one of each. I scrolled through the names attending, saw a few big-time ones I recognized, then made my choices. Again, God must have been chuckling at me. Why? Because I hadn’t done any research on the people I was going to speak with. The Agent specialized in historical romance and YA. I write contemporary adult. The editor was from a house that was acquiring only through agents. Lesson learned? Do your Research. Every single one of those professionals had a link to a website. If I’d done my due diligence and clicked on the ones I wanted to meet, I would have known they weren’t going to be interested in my work.
Since this was my first RWA I had no idea all the stuff you receive at the conference. Every publishing house gives out complementary books during their spotlight events; every meal has a guest speaker who also leaves a book or two on every chair; the Goodie room is chock full of swag, free books, and just…stuff. I brought one suitcase with me that was already stuffed with my own stuff. Now I had over 60 free books and no room. Shipping them would have cost about $100.00. Lesson learned? Bring an extra bag/suitcase for all your stuff. It’s way cheaper to pay the extra $25.00 bag fee on the airline than to snailmail everything to your house.
Realize you are going to see and possibly meet some of your all time favorite authors. It’s okay to fan-girl. It’s not okay to stalk. I stalked Nora Roberts. The moment I saw her across the hotel lobby I simply lost my mind. She was on her way out of the building for a cigarette break. I am ashamed to admit this, but I followed her. It was like I was in some kind of trace. I knew what I was doing was illegal in 50 states, but I had no will to stop myself. When she stopped outside and lit up, I stood in the vestibule behind the glass doors and just…watched her. After a minute, sanity prevailed and snapped out of it. Then I spotted Jill Shalvis on the escalator going down while I was going up. I jumped off and headed back down and followed her into the hotel coffee shop. Again… I was in a trance, I swear! Lesson learned? Be prepared to meet your writing idols but don’t do anything you could get arrested for!!
One of the best things I did was attend the RWA First Timer’s presentation. It was filled with helpful hints about how to get the most out of the conference without feeling overwhelmed, or as if you missed something. I highly recommend setting aside the two hours of the class and fitting it into your schedule.
Conferences are fun but exhausting – just like your favorite vacation. Manage your time, plan ahead, and you’re guaranteed to have a great experience.